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Poet Selina Tusitala Marsh wins Book of the Year at children’s awards

Former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh’s first book for children has been judged the supreme winner at the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Mophead was awarded the highest prize in children’s publishing – The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year – during a virtual presentation this evening to celebrate this year’s awards. The judges said Mophead is “clever, joyful and inspiring, with not a smidgen of pretension or condescension”. They went as far as calling the book “perfect” – describing it as a taonga that should be placed in the hands of every child in Aotearoa, especially young Pasifika children who might not yet know their own creative power.

“We love this book’s design and production. We love that it’s part picture book, part graphic novel, part memoir, part poem – its form is exactly what it wants and needs to be, which is the message of the book too,” says convenor of judges Jane Arthur. Mophead recounts Marsh’s journey from self-conscious child unsure of her place in the world to being New Zealand’s Poet Laureate rubbing shoulders with world leaders and literary luminaries, and delivers a powerful message that your difference is what makes a difference. Seven other significant awards were also announced during the presentation, held online due to lingering concerns about COVID-19 at the time of planning. The virtual format meant a bigger audience than usual heard from all the night’s winners and judges, as well as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, other dignitaries, and some avid young readers. As well as taking out the supreme prize, Mophead was also awarded the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction. The judges faced an abundance of strong contenders in this category and said there has never been a more exciting time to be a young reader on the hunt for facts or true stories. A beautiful story about a curious child who goes on an adventure with her father to discover the origins of the universe was judged the Picture Book Award winner. Abigail and the Birth of the Sun, written by Matthew Cunningham and illustrated by Sarah Wilkins, perfectly wove science and magic and the judges loved the tender way in which Abigail’s father cradled her curiosity, creating a beautiful narrative answer to her big question. A confident debut from an exciting new talent won the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction. Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan, set in the crowded slums of Singapore’s Chinatown during World War Two, stood out for its gripping storyline and historical detail. Director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University Damien Wilkins is known as a writer for adults, but the judges found his work lost none of its potency when aimed at teens, awarding Aspiring the Young Adult Fiction Award. They said Aspiring demonstrated a stunning insight into the teenage mind, both in its exploration of character and its respect for the intelligence of its audience. A pared back and powerful book claimed the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. The judges described Mat Tait’s illustrations for The Adventures of Tupaia had as having an urgent fire in their belly, and praised their ability to reach the reader on a intellectual, gut and aesthetic level. The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori was awarded to Tio Tiamu, a book about a giant with a kind heart and a genuine love for his hapū who overcomes many challenges and deliberate acts of nastiness. The panel of judges convened by Te Rōpū Whakahau said this ageless and weighty story dealt with universal themes, but at the same time was steeped in whakaaro Māori. The finalists for the Best First Book Award belied their debut status by producing vibrant, slick and thoroughly enjoyable books, said the judges, but it was the genre-bending #Tumeke! by Michael Petherick that most captured them. Ages and cultures merge to tell a sweet and funny tale, with the creative multi-media format that uses poetry, lyrics, emails, emojis, illustrations and engaging storylines rewarding the eyes and challenge the brain. Inspiring a love of reading in Kiwi children is a big part of the Awards’ remit and many of this year’s finalists had the opportunity to present their work to thousands of children around the country in a programme of Books Alive online events and virtual story times, co-ordinated through public and school libraries by LIANZA, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa. The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are a unique celebration of the contribution that New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to building national identity and cultural heritage. The awards are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The full list of winners for the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award $7500

Mophead, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Picture Book Award $7500

Abigail and the Birth of the Sun, Matthew Cunningham, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins (Puffin, Penguin Random House)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction $7500

Lizard's Tale, Weng Wai Chan (Text Publishing)

Young Adult Fiction Award $7500

Aspiring, Damien Wilkins (Annual Ink / Massey University Press)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction $7500

Mophead, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration $7500

The Adventures of Tupaia, illustrated by Mat Tait, written by Courtney Sina Meredith (Allen & Unwin with Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori $7500

Tio Tiamu, Kurahau, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Best First Book Award $2000

#Tumeke!, Michael Petherick (Annual Ink / Massey University Press)


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